By Jefferson Geiger
Humbled. Dumbfounded. Overwhelmed. Reinvigorated.
Those are a few words Wagner College Head of Dance Rusty Curcio used to describe how he felt upon winning the New York State Dance Education Association’s Outstanding Dance Educator: Teaching Artist Award.
For Curcio, who has been with the college since 1997, the recognition reaffirms his decades of dedication and hard work.
Wagner College Provost Tarshia Stanley and Professor Natalie Williams, Wagner’s division chair of performing and visual arts, joined Curcio at the culminating awards ceremony on Saturday, Feb. 3, at Hunter College in New York.
“As artists and educators, you're always questioning what you're doing and if it is working,” Curcio said. “This honor inspires me to write a pedagogical book or an article; it gives me a new vision for what the future could be.”
The future wasn’t always clear for Curcio. He started as a touring performer but got burned out from the rigorous schedule and living on the road. He left dance and worked in the corporate world, yet his passion led him back to the art form — this time as an academic.
“I love the students; I love the work,” Curcio said. “I am lucky to be able to go and do what I love to do every day.”
Curcio said he had to teach himself how to teach, but his blended background as a performer and dance educator provides students a unique, practical approach. Over the years, he’s been developing his teaching to give the next generation of dancers tools he didn’t have. In 2019, the school launched the new dance education major that Curcio created — and that is continually growing.
Junior Elle Ouimet is majoring in both dance education and theatre performance. It was because of her theater classes with Curcio that she took on the dance education major. From the moment she took her first ballet class with him freshman year, Ouimet knew she wanted to learn from Curcio for the rest of her time at Wagner. Last fall, she had the opportunity to be his assistant choreographer in Pippin.
“He has truly changed my life,” Ouimet said. “His commitment to an expectation for excellence pushes me to be better every day and he has really helped me grow as a person.
“I think something that separates him from other teachers is he allows us to hone our craft technically, while still recognizing us as individual artists,” Ouimet concluded.
Curcio said the weekend ceremony was a great opportunity to reunite with colleagues he hadn’t seen in years. He also reconnected with students who followed in his footsteps into education.
Anabella Lenzu, a colleague of Curcio’s who nominated him for the award, spoke at the Hunter College ceremony.
“He is a teacher of deep generosity and fairness, and for this, his students respect him immensely, as do I,” Lenzu said. “As a faculty member of Wagner College for the last 10 years, I feel honored and privileged to work under his wing.”